Two of the most powerful nations on earth are in a spat over street names. With a poke in the eye to the Russians, the Washington DC City Council has renamed the block on Wisconsin Ave. where the Russian Embassy sits after a murdered Kremlin critic, Boris Nemtsov. Russia, going one better is proposing to rename the street where the US embassy sits in Moscow to 1 North American Dead End. Well, given that they are military powers, economic powers, climate change powers, nuclear powers, we’ll take that spat every time. Even if Russia’s street name is better.
Brand equity cuts both ways. Sometimes it’s good, say Apple, and sometimes less so, say Enron. Take the coffee brand, Chock Full of Nuts. For most east of the Mississippi of a certain age they know this is a coffee brand. It wasn’t always that way. Originally Chock Full of Nuts was in the, take a wild guess, nut business. For whatever reason they got out of nuts and into coffee but stuck with the brand name. Maybe the CEO created it. Maybe the finance person said it will cost money to change it. Maybe a marketing genius said we have brand equity in the name; people know us, we’d have to start from scratch if we changed the brand name. All of this is true, but that doesn’t make it right. Chock Full of Nuts has to overcome this brand equity with every new prospect. They do it on their label, in their advertising, in their sales collateral. A name won’t make or break a great product or business model but putting a giant question mark between you and your consumer doesn’t make things easier. When your mission or value prop is masked, obfuscated, and hidden by your name, it is time for a new one. Creating new brand equity is quicker, better, cheaper than changing it.
We are currently watching the countdown to the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket from Elon Musk’s Space X. Uppercase is not a big fan of either of the names Space X or Falcon. A boring and pedestrian set of brand names by any measure, but especially so given the audaciousness of what they represent.
But the “Heavy” moniker is simply way cool. Anybody can launch a kite or paper airplane or a hot-air balloon but launching something heavy is a true feat. Indeed, it is heavy. Go Elon!
It must have been a slow news day when the Times issued a call to those born after 1995 asking them to create a name for their cohort. Though the “Greatest Generation” will be hard to beat and “Baby Boomers” will be tough to match, “GenX,” “Slackers,” and “Millennials” are not very high bars. Here’s our submissions to christen the group ages 22 and younger:
“Good Luck, You’ll Need It”
“Your Boss the Robot”
“Using Social Media, But All Alone”
“Last Gen to see a Polar Bear in the Wild”
“Coders & Everyone Else”
“Why Donald? Dear God, Why?”
“Thanks for Nothing”
“Can’t Write a Sentence, Can Write Code”
“The Sea Wall Builders”
“Shoulda Bought Bitcoin”
“Glad I Didn’t Buy Bitcoin”
“My Grandkids Will Live on Mars, Thanks Secretaries Perry, Zinke and Pruitt”
“Thanks Elon for Getting My Grandkids to Mars”
On January 10, an organization nonpareil, the US Army, filed notice with the USPTO against the new (and winning) Vegas Golden Knights hockey team asking the board to refuse to register the franchise's mark, the “Golden Knights.” The Army bases the request on, among other things, the classic legal concept of “likelihood of confusion." This concept holds that a reasonable person is likely to be confused between the two products the trademarks represent and therefore the less established (newer) mark should be denied registration. Which in this case is a professional hockey team in sin city versus the US Army’s Golden Knights parachute team.
We’ll leave that quarrel for the lawyers to argue but as Uppercase wrote in 2016, the compelling issue with the Golden Knights name is the money the owners have left on the table by not pursuing a cool, contemporary, and evocative moniker with long term branding legs. $30.00 tee shirts and $130.00 jerseys emblazoned with an inspiring name to encourage a rabidly loyal fan base is the easy revenue stream.
The “Vegas Ace’s” is the obvious choice but something nonsensical say, the “Cactus Boulders,” or descriptively evocative such as “The Dry Heat” would have broader, not to mention more buzz-worthy, appeal.
How important is your brand name? Well, a lot of folks in the cryptocurrency space think it is mission critical. The New York Times featured a cheeky tongue-in-cheek piece on a number of companies who were failing in their original model but with a new name and quick pivot have joined the ranks of those seeking redemption and riches in ersatz currency.
A beverage maker is drinking the blockchain Kool Aid. A vaping company blew off steam, a pharma company unhooked itself from drugs, an apparel company disrobed, a gold company reburnished, and a cigar company stopped smoking (and maybe started blowing smoke) as they all changed their names to support their new mission. There is some sense to this. They are smart enough people to have started a business and stewarded it to some degree of success. They have a team and assets and imagination and, finally and most importantly, the perspicacity to telegraph their new direction with a descriptive name.
But, at the same time, when companies formally engaged in yoga pants design and making Macanudos enter the realm of currency creation, can a popped bubble be far behind?
A recent article in the Atlantic covered a pair of researchers who claim that the growth in SUV sales is an indicator of increased fear and isolationism among a certain group of the population. Since SUV’s are big, tall, powerful, heavy, and intimidating they suggest that they can be used as a measure of tribal protectionism. Further buttressing their argument, the researchers point to the names of these behemoths as appealing to and reinforcing this isolationist tendency, e.g. Outlander, Pathfinder, Crossfire. Now a relation does not a correlation make, but there is no doubt that the imagery evoked by these names, including Santa Fe, Yukon, Tahoe, Land Rover, Range Rover, and our personal favorite, Enclave, is meant to appeal to the rugged individualism nascent in every urban driver.
If the researchers could point to SUV names like Stay-Away or Backoff, or GunAboard, they’d have a stronger argument.
Adding the prefix ‘black’ to any word or phrase is a decidedly mixed bag. Black Monday is when markets melt and so for that matter is Black Tuesday. Yet black is also sublime, classy, elegant like the simple black dress or a black limo. But Black Friday?
According to some word nerds, the term was first coined by law enforcement to describe the craziness of the biggest shopping day of the year. Over time it settled in and despite some attempts to change the name or give it a new meaning, e.g. the day retailers’ balance sheet went from red to black, (apparently an urban myth) we’re stuck with Black Friday.
But better than say, chartreuse Friday.
Vanity Fair just published a piece detailing Paul Ryan’s request of the Brander-in-Chief to name the tax bill. Given POTUS’s predilection to brand everything from hotels to steak with his own moniker, it’s a little surprising that his adamant recommendation is The “Cut Cut Cut Act.” Given the likelihood of its failure, maybe not calling it the Trump Tax Act is prescient. Here’s some of our suggestions:
- The “On second thought, I really wish I wouldn’t have won this thing act.”
- The “If the Russians helped Hillary I wouldn’t be in this mess act.”
- The “Extra special tax break for Special Prosecutors if they’d leave me alone act”
- The “How pissed will Ivanka be if I fire Jared act?”
- The “Aliens from Mars just landed in the Arizona desert and this is not an obvious attempt at distraction act.”
- The “Let them eat Trump branded cake act.”
- The “Worst 12 months of my life, well except for that time with Marla act.”
- The “No tax for the rest of your life if you can find dirt on Mueller act.”
- The “Who knew uranium could be so complicated act?”
- The “Hillary and Canada there is something there, sad act.”
We finally found the time to watch “The Founder” with Michael Keaton reprising his “Pacific Heights” role as McDonald’s putative founder, Ray Kroc. A terrific movie and two scenes stand out for us name dweebs. The first shows Keaton as Kroc explaining to the McDonald brothers that what they “never understood” was the power of their brand name. Keaton explains that it was never about the food, the experience or the efficiency it was the name, it was just so all American, so filled with promise. Second, over the closing credits, we see a grainy black and white clip of the real Ray Kroc recalling the real deal, “McDonalds, it’s a typical English-American word. It flows, I like the sound of it. It sounded wholesome, it sounded genuine. I don’t like these gimmicky type names; burger this and burger that names. McDonald’s, it’s gotta nice sounding name to it.”
The world’s largest living things are being threatened by the tip toes of tiny human feet. The New York Times reported recently that the heretofore secret location of a grove of some of the biggest trees known to man has been exposed by sleuthing amateur arborists. Tree lovers can love these trees to death by simply walking upon their shallow and delicate root system. Since it can’t unring this bell, the state is installing a boardwalk so strollers can admire without trampling.
A spokesperson for project attributed much of the interest in the grove to its name, “The Grove of Titans.” “Who can resist?”, she said.
We would have loved the assignment: Create a name to keep people away.
Replacing the existential threat with gallows humor for a moment, the DPRK has won the war of wits with POTUS. Let’s face it, “RocketMan” is nothing but a complement. It suggests rocket scientist and through that anything associated with rockets is generally good, right? Rockets are advanced, technical, fast, cool, and generally capture the public’s imagination. Heck even songs get written about them. The obvious, and more withering, sobriquet would have been “RocketBoy.” But, I for one am glad that label didn’t get used.
Kim Jung Un's riposte, “Dotard” was undeniably brilliant. Even if you don’t know what it means it looks and sounds like an insult. And because most don’t know what it means, like all great names, it sparked curiosity.
But what is one to expect in a battle of names between “POTUS” and “Supreme Leader?”
I am readying myself for some travel this coming week and my old, pre-wheel Hartman is a badge brand that is just too heavy for these weary shoulders. Hartman is a near-couture brand name that like all surnames takes time to establish itself. The way, say, Samsonite, does not.
During my search for the quintessential piece of travel gear I came across these brand names.
G-RO offers a rolling bag with large wheels. A great idea. It took a while to read G-RO as Gyro, i.e. turning, but got it in context, eventually. Not a fan of hyphens though; too open to pronunciation issues. Is it Gee Row or Grow, or G hyphen R O? Geero would be better. Or perhaps Souvlaki?
Away is simply beautiful. Evocative of everything you want travel to be. Except of course when you are ready to come home.
Fugu? Fuggaadabout. Travelmate… hmm I bet the creator of this name makes for lively seatmate conversation. DUFL, can I buy a vowel please? Bluesmart picks up on Bluetooth one assumes but conjoined brand names work best when they have some common element. Bluetooth at least has some rhythm to it.
And then there’s Modobag. Pretty cool name; descriptive with a hint of mystery. This is a motorized piece of luggage that you sit on as you travel from gate to gate. But judging from the pictures, it is doomed to suffer from the Segway Syndrome – one looks like a dweeb-nerd-geek-loser scooting around the airport on one of these.
I haven’t bought a piece yet. Too distracted by the names.
There is an increasing body of research supporting the idea that pronounceable names produce more positive associations. And while this research addresses people's names, there is no reason one can’t make the leap to brand names. But other than common-sense judgement preferring short to long, we really don’t know if long names are bad per se.
Is Holland better than The Netherlands? Is America Better than the United States of America? Is Britain better than the United Kingdom?
Is Cadillac preferred to Caddy, Budweiser to Bud, General Motors to GM? It makes for interesting debates among word nerds over a Pinot (or is it a Pinot Noir?) but (as we encourage our clients) there is no single determinate of an extraordinary brand name – it must be evaluated holistically.
Take for example maybe the longest brand on television right now, “The Konica-Minolta BizHub SwingVision Camera,” with which any viewers of golf are quite familiar. Yep, way long but it rolls of Peter Kostis’s tongue most mellifluously.
Name a major multinational financial group with 350 years of history, $2.6 trillion in assets and operations in 50 countries. We’d love to. And we’d do it for free.
Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group or MUFG, surely provides their clients sound financial counsel, but even with all the positive brand equity in the world, it must be hard to get past the name; “Hi, this is Bill with MUFG and I’d like to sell you some bonds.” “Well Bill, MUFG you too.” Both science and common sense demonstrate that a hard to pronounce name raises concerns that simply don’t need to be there.
If anybody is listening, we’d love to help.
According to a recent story in the WSJ, Tesla got more than a little flummoxed over a single letter and a single number. The story goes that each successive Tesla model would be branded a single letter and over the course of four cars those letters will spell out S-E-X-Y.
At first blush, we confess that we were very skeptical that a person as smart as Musk and as cool and confident a marketer as he is (as evidenced by the extraordinary name he gave his company) would do something as trite as spell out sexy. But, by all accounts it’s true.
But even this wicked smart marketer was thwarted by a single simple letter. You see, the letter ‘E’ is trademarked in the automotive industry by a company they just surpassed in market cap, Ford. Hard to believe one can register a single letter or a single number but it happens all the time in CarWorld.
Musk’s response to this was to use the number three (3) thinking that perhaps when viewed in a rearview mirror it looked like an ‘E.’ Actually, a pretty sharp and innovative answer per se, but in Autoville, numbers carry a significance far beyond a mere brand name. To car buyers they telegraph either a price class or the latest iteration of an existing model. Neither of which is true for Tesla’s model 3.
This is certainly nothing more than a hiccup for Tesla, but when your profession is naming things, it makes for a fun read.
Sirocco, Tiguan, Touareg, Fahrvergnugen, Passat. All tongue twisters indeed. (That’s Zungenbrecher, in German, btw.) Common sense suggests that everything else being equal, pronounceable brand names are better than those open to question. An old boss maintained this was not always the case and that pronunciation could be enforced. (See Honda Prelude or Toyota Previa, or just about any non-American automaker for that matter. And really, does anyone who can afford a Porsche not pronounce it correctly?)
But there is a substantial body of empirical evidence (more detail in future postings) that demonstrates that common sense, which is not so common, btw, is right in this case.
From hiring decisions; people prefer Mr. Smith to Mr. Colquahon, to purchase decisions; stocks with simple names sell better than complex ones, pronounceable names are better.
Volkswagen also offers Golf, Jetta, and Atlas. We guess they’re hedging their naming bets.
How you introduce your new brand name is almost as important as the name itself. And since everybody is a budding comedian with a wry comment and a social media account, you have to have your head in the sand not to anticipate sideways looks and withering commentary about your new name no matter how great and powerful it is.
The branding highway is littered with new names that, good, bad or indifferent, were pummeled in the media. And while you can’t completely protect yourself you can be smarter about how you introduce your new self to the world.
First, constraining yourself to launching something as important as your brand using just 140 characters invites ridicule. Names need context, a story, a reason. Brands will never stand alone so why introduce them that way? 140 characters begs people to crack wise with one-liners. Tell your customers and prospects why you chose the name you did. It will aid recall and seat the message.
Second, the Twitter medium itself facilitates the ridicule. Creating is hard, criticizing is easy. No one is going to go viral patting you on the back for your strategy and creativity, so why encourage the negativity with a medium known for anything but reasoned thought.
Now to the name itself, Oath. Verizon didn’t do itself any favors. In the end, the business will rise and fall on its merits and the name tempest will be but a footnote, but still. Oath is a serious word about serious matters. Let’s face it, we're talking entertainment here so there is a disconnect that could have been easily avoided. Digging a little deeper and over-parsing it like no consumer will, didn’t Yahoo! take an “oath” to secure its customers’ data? Irony much?
Linguistically, Oath is short but nonetheless it is an awkward word requiring a few more gyrations of the vocal tract than its brevity would suggest. Not a deal killer, but there are 249,999 other words in the English language.
Yahoo! captured the ethos of its time. AOL, anticipating the social aspect of social media before there was such a thing, invited all of America to join in. Is Oath too serious for these troubled times? Perhaps, something more diverting was called for.
A paper just out from the University of Buffalo and Finland's University of Oulu empirically shows that names can have a significant impact on sales. As if we didn't know. But interestingly the study was done on hedge fund names - a highly considered purchase by well-informed buyers - and it found that names with gravitas had better sales than those with names that are seen as less weighty.
Uppercase has long maintained this with both evidence and instinct, and now here is international research not just bearing this out (again) but demonstrating it in even the most sophisticated of purchases.
Hedge funds hold billions of dollars in investments. Seems like a no brainer to invest in an extraordinary brand name for themselves.
Patting ourselves on the back just a bit, we thought we broke the mold when we helped our client create the Stillwater name for their insurance brand. We saw a landscape cluttered with odd acronyms and iterations of farm and state. But the latest entrant found the mold, repaired it and broke it again.
Lemonade is a New York-based insurer for home owners and renters. Now insurance is a stodgy business but that's because most of us want stodgy when it comes to covering our assets. But Lemonade takes a whole new approach and hats off to them for selecting a name that telegraphs this.
A refreshing name for a refreshing business model!